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Changing Spaces

Still in the early stages, Albany’s permit-parking system is hitting its first snags

by Darryl McGrath on April 10, 2013

Dominick Calsolaro never thought people would be willing to walk a mile to avoid paying for parking, but that is exactly what dozens of out-of-towners do most weekdays when they leave their cars on Morton Avenue and hike across Lincoln Park to downtown office destinations.

Morton Avenue is just beyond the boundary of the downtown permit-parking zones, and nonresidents can park there all day for free.

“That’s quite a hike,” said Colsolaro, an Albany Common Council member, who has already received complaints from 1st Ward residents who have noticed the influx of cars. One woman said her elderly mother is suddenly having difficulty finding a parking space near her home. “You’re talking 20, 25 minutes, plus it’s hills.”

The spillover nonresident parking on Morton Avenue—in the lingo of parking engineering, this is known as “displacement”—is just one of several quirks of human nature and computers that have cropped up in the first three months of the long-awaited permit-parking system.

“These are small matters,” said Richard Conti, the 6th Ward Common Council member who served on the task force that designed the system, and who now participates in a monthly conference call by officials from the several city departments that oversee the implementation of the permit-parking system. “These are the tweaks and problems we expected.”

One problem is going to be addressed immediately: the suspicion that a few enterprising residents may be either renting out or selling their visitor hang tags to nonresidents. Several residents of the Hudson/Park Neighborhood have reported that they see visitor hang tags in the same cars day after day. This suggests either that the in-laws are outstaying their welcome, or that some nonresidents have procured a visitor tag and have gone right back to parking for free all day while they’re at jobs in Empire State Plaza or other downtown locations. (Visitor tags cannot be used for more than a week, “except for cause,” according to the permit-parking ordinance.)

The city has investigated and has determined there is a valid concern about misuse, Conti said. The city clerk’s office is preparing warning letters to the residents who hold the suspect visitor’s permits. Contrary to popular belief, the visitor hang tags can be matched to the residence to which they were issued.

The city is also taking steps to address scattered reports that cars with properly displayed resident permit stickers have been ticketed. In most cases, the car windows apparently were so deeply tinted that the stickers were not visible, or a quirk in the software of the handheld scanners mismatched the sticker and the address to which it was issued. The city has already dismissed some of the tickets given in error but in good faith, and “there doesn’t seem to be any mass problem with this,” said Richard Berkley, president of the Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association.

 The permit-parking system is in a two-year pilot phase, and the transition has gone well, observers say. The parking along Morton Avenue is noticeable, said Dan Van Riper, president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was in the 1980s, when the city last had a permit-parking system and the spillover parking on streets around Lincoln Park made every day look like the Fourth of July. That’s probably because the state opened 1,000 additional parking spaces in the underground garage at Empire State Plaza just as the current system went into effect, and several new parking garages have been built in the last decade.

“Overall, the system is working,” said Conti, who noted that people who think otherwise can log a complaint by going to the home page of the city’s website and clicking on the link under the heading “Residential Permit Parking” (http://www.albanyncity.gov/home). “As we move forward, you always identify issues that need to be addressed, but we’re addressing them.”